Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge Battles
The Army Of The Cumberland
By Henry M. Cist
These three detached actions, fought by different portions of our troops, were parts of a series of operations for securing our front and driving the enemy from his position, and are known properly as the Battle of Chattanooga. Grant, late in October, ordered Sherman with the Fifteenth Army Corps to press forward to the Tennessee River, cross at Bridgeport and push rapidly on to Chattanooga. Early in November, learning that Bragg had weakened his forces on our front by sending Longstreet's command into East Tennessee to attack Burnside, Grant was very desirous of making an attack at once on the rebel forces on Lookout and Missionary Ridge, but examining the strong position occupied by Bragg at these points and the length of his lines, Grant became convinced that to successfully operate against the enemy it was necessary to wait until Sherman with his command came up. While this force moved eastward, Grant was maturing his plans for the engagement, lie directed Sherman to report in person, which he did on the 15th, and on consultation with him and Thomas the general plan of battle was submitted to them. The main attack was to be made on the 21st, at daylight, by Sherman's troops, on the north end of Missionary Ridge. To accomplish this his command was to be reinforced with one division of the Army of the Cumberland under Jeff C. Davis. Sherman's troops--four divisions--were to move from Brown's Ferry through the woods to the north of the town up to the Tennessee River, opposite the mouth of Chickamauga Creek, where they were to cross on a pontoon bridge to be swung there under the supervision of W. F. Smith, and the crossing of the troops to be protected by batteries under Brannan, Thomas's Chief of Artillery. After crossing the river, Sherman was to move rapidly forward, carrying the heights on the north end of Missionary Ridge as far as the tunnel, if possible, before the enemy could concentrate on his front, Thomas was to concentrate all his troops in Chattanooga Valley on his left flank, leaving only the necessary force to defend the fortifications on his right and centre and to hold a movable column of one division to move wherever needed. This division was to make a show of threatening Bragg's forces up the valley. Thomas was then to effect a junction with Sherman, co-operate with him, advancing his left and moving forward as nearly simultaneously as possible, and support him. Hooker on the right in Lookout Valley, was to hold that position with Geary's division and two brigades under Cruft from the Fourth Army Corps, ordered to report to him. Howard, on Friday, the 20th, was ordered with his corps to take position on the north side of the Tennessee, opposite Chattanooga, near the pontoon bridge, and hold himself in readiness to move to Thomas's front or to co-operate with Sherman as needed. Colonel Eli Long with his brigade of cavalry was directed to report by noon on Saturday, the 21st, at Chattanooga, to cover Sherman's left flank, and if not further required by Sherman he was then to cross the Chickamauga, make a raid on the enemy's line of communication in the rear, doing as much damage as he could.
Sherman made his movement with his troops from Bridgeport through Whitesides. Sending his leading division under Ewing up Lookout Valley, to make a feint on the left flank of the rebel army in the direction of Trenton, he crossed his others at Brown's Ferry and marched up the north bank of the river to the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek. Here they kept concealed in the woods from the enemy until they were ready to effect their crossing. Owing to heavy rains and the state of the roads, Sherman was able to have lint one division, under John E. Smith, in position by the 21st, and Grant delayed his plans of battle to give him additional time. Sherman on the 21st moved his second division under Morgan L. Smith over the bridge at Brown's Ferry, and on the 23d, after many repairs to the bridge, rendered necessary by the swollen stream and the raft of logs sent down the river by the rebels, Ewing's division also got safely across. Sherman's fourth division under Osterhaus was not able on the 23d to cross, and this division was then ordered, in the event of not being able to cross by eight A.M. the 24th, to report to Hooker on the south bank of the Tennessee. Davis had reported with his division to Sherman, and on the 23d, the boats of the pontoon bridge were used to effect a landing at the mouth of South Chickamauga Creek by Giles A. Smith's brigade, who captured the rebel pickets at this place, landed his entire brigade, and then sent the boats back for additional troops. By daylight of the 24th, Sherman with two divisions of some 8,000 men was intrenched on the east bank of the Tennessee. A pontoon bridge, 1,350 feet long, was then built over this river, and another over Chickamauga Creek under the direction of W. F. Smith.
Sherman after crossing the river on the 23d, about 1 P.M., placed his command in three columns, following in his advance the general direction of Chickamauga Creek, with his left under Morgan L. Smith resting on the creek. His centre was under John E. Smith and his right under Ewing, all under the command of Frank P. Blair, Corps Commander. In support of these, Davis's division also moved to the attack. Grant and Sherman had supposed that Missionary Ridge was one prolonged even range. When Sherman left the river he passed over the foothills and then pressed up what he supposed was the main portion of the ridge. When he reached the top of this, after a lively skirmish with the rebel pickets, he found a deep depression intervening between this hill and the next, which was the one the tunnel ran through, where the rebels were heavily intrenched, and which he had been ordered to take. On the top of this first hill, finding he could not take the hill beyond where the tunnel ran through, he threw up intrenchments and prepared to hold the ground he had thus far gained. Here about 4 P.M. he had a heavy engagement. The enemy's advance with sharp artillery and musketry fire was gallantly met and repulsed. Sherman then made preparations for the night, posting his command to hold all positions. Howard had reported with three regiments to him, as he crossed the bridge which connected him with the main Army of the Cumberland. Howard leaving these troops with Sherman, then returned to his corps. When his command was placed on the front to Granger's left in the afternoon, he connected with Sherman's right. Here Sherman rested all night, and about midnight received orders from Grant to "attack the enemy at dawn of day," "that General Thomas would attack in force early in the lay."
While the main attack was progressing under Sherman on the left, Hooker on the right had been pressing the enemy. On the 23d, Osterhaus, finding that he could not cross the Tennessee in time to engage in the movement with Sherman, reported with his division to Hooker, who was then ordered to take these troops, with Geary's division and Whittaker's and Grose's brigades of the First Division of the Fourth Corps under Cruft, and make a strong demonstration on the northern slope of Lookout Mountain, drawing Bragg's attention to this point and away from Sherman while crossing the river and getting into position. Thomas instructed Hooker if he found he was able to carry the enemy's position here, to do so.
As Geary moved down on the right bank of the creek, he soon encountered the enemy's pickets. These gave the alarm at once, when their troops formed in the breastworks and rifle-pits. All these positions were soon covered by artillery planted by Hooker's orders. He then sent Wood's brigade of Osterhaus's division about eight hundred yards up the creek to build another bridge, and directed Cruft to leave a small command at the first bridge, to attract the attention of the enemy, and ordered the rest of Grose's brigade to cross with Wood's. This bridge was completed at 11 o'clock, when the troops under Wood and Grose crossed, and joined Geary on the right bank, who had driven the enemy up to this point. Under cover of the heavy artillery fire, the entire line advanced, pressing the enemy steadily back. At noon Geary's advance drove the rebels around the peak of the mountain, Here Geary was ordered to halt and reform his command, lint having the rebels on the run he pressed forward and drove them in a fleeing, panic-stricken crowd. Cobham's and Ireland's brigades on the high ground on the right, near the Palisades, pressed on, rolling their line up on the flank, closely supported by Whittaker's and Creighton's brigades. The enemy had been reinforced, but he was not able to resist the sweep of Hooker's troops as they rounded the crest of the mountain at Craven's house, where the enemy made his last stand, and from here, with his line all broken and in rout, he was driven over the rocks and precipices into Chattanooga Valley. At this time the mist that had been hanging round the mountain all the day settled still lower down. It was now about 2 o'clock, and Hooker in the mist, unable to see beyond his immediate front, placed his troops in position, threw up temporary breastworks, with his line on the east side of the mountain, the right resting at the Palisades and the left near the mouth of Chattanooga Creek. He then reported to Thomas, who ordered Carlin with his brigade to report to him, when he was placed on the extreme right, relieving Geary's troops. During the night the rebels opened a heavy fire on our right as if intending to break our lines. This was handsomely repulsed, Carlin's brigade taking an active part. Early in the morning, before daylight, several parties were sent up the mountain, in anticipation of the retreat of the enemy during the night, to scale the heights. One from the Eighth Kentucky was the first that reached the summit, and here at sunrise the stars and stripes were unfurled at the extreme point amid the cheers of the entire army. During the night Stevenson abandoned the top of the mountain, while the Summertown road remained open, leaving his camp and garrison equipage. This gave to our army full possession and control of the river and railroad up to Chattanooga.
The mist still clung to the mountain in heavy folds early on the 25th, when Hooker was ordered to press forward on the road to Rossville, carry the pass, and operate on Bragg's left and rear. Advancing down into the valley, he found the rebel pickets still holding the right bank of Chattanooga Creek. Arriving at the creek at about ten o'clock he found the bridges on the Rossville road destroyed. Here Hooker was delayed for some three hours, when Osterhaus in the advance crossed the infantry on the stringers and pressed forward, driving the enemy's pickets over to Rossville. Hooker found the rebels at this place loading up their stores. Leaving a force on their front, he sent Wood's brigade to take the ridge on the right, and William-son's on the left. After a severe skirmish the enemy hastily retreated, abandoning large quantities of stores, wagons, and ambulances. The gap now being under our control, Hooker ordered the advance of our entire line, Osterhaus with his division on the east of the ridge, Cruft on the ridge, and Geary in the valley west of the ridge. This line advancing soon encountered the rebels under Stewart, occupying the line of breastworks thrown up by our troops after Chickamauga. Cruft charged on them, drove them in all directions out of these works in full retreat. Part of them ran into Osterhaus's men and were captured. Others were captured by Geary in the valley. The mass of them fell back to their second line, from which they were likewise speedily driven, when the fight became a running one, continuing until sunset. Part of the enemy in their endeavors to escape ran into Johnson's division of the Fourteenth Corps, thrown forward to join the pursuit, and were captured. Hooker's command then went into camp.
Early on the morning of the 25th Sherman made his disposition for his main attack. Holding his centre with three brigades, he was then to move along the east and west base of Missionary Ridge with his right and left flanks. Corse advancing from the right centre moved forward, supported by Lightburn on the left and Morgan L. Smith on his right, and occupied a crest in the woods about eighty yards from the intrenched line of the enemy. From this point Corse assaulted the main rebel line, and for over an hour maintained a heavy contest, driving the enemy and at times being driven back, but still holding his crest as first secured. Here Corse, Loomis, and Morgan L. Smith fought the rebels under Hardee with Cleburne's, Gist's, Cheatham's, and Stevenson's divisions in a stubborn struggle all day up to three o'clock, holding their own, lint making little headway. About two o'clock John E. Smith's two brigades, while moving to the support of Ewing, were driven in some disorder by a charge of the enemy, heavily massed. They were quickly reformed and, aided by Corse's troops taking the rebels in the flank with a hot musketry first, the enemy was soon driven back into his line of works.
Here Sherman was fighting the heavy column of the enemy on our left, and the main part of the battle had been his share. Grant was waiting for Hooker to reach the rebel left at Rossville, in the hope that this would afford some relief to the stubborn fighting Sherman had encountered. Finding that Hooker had been delayed by the destruction of the bridge longer than was anticipated, and that the diversion was not to come front that quarter, Grant ordered Thomas to move out the four divisions constituting the centre--Baird on the left, then Wood with Sheridan on his right, and Johnson on the extreme right of the line--with a double line of skirmishers to the front, supported by the entire force, press forward to carry the first line of rifle-pits and there halt and await orders, the movement to commence at three o'clock, at a signal of six guns fired in rapid succession from Orchard Knob.
There was some little delay attending the preliminaries of the movement, and it was not until after half past three that the commands having moved out and taken the alignment were in position for the advance, when the guns sounded one, two, three, four, five, six. With this the troops, impatient all the day with being kept in the breastworks while Sherman's men were hard at work, eagerly pressed onward, divisions, brigades, and regiments striving each with the other for the advance. With the first movement Bragg at once hurried reinforcements from his right and left to strengthen his troops in his works to resist the advance
Sheridan advanced with his division, skirmishing with the enemy's rear-guard, but driving them steadily for about a mile on the Chickamauga station road. Here this road runs over a high ridge on which the enemy had posted eight pieces of artillery supported by a strong force to cover their retreat. At this point Sheridan, with Harker's and Wagner's brigades, had an engagement with these troops, but after a movement flanking the rebel's right and left, they hurriedly retreated, leaving two pieces of artillery and a large number of wagons. After this ridge was captured, Sheridan's troops went into bivouac. During the night the full moon flooded the surrounding country with its bright light. At midnight, on Granger's suggestion, Sheridan in the advance was again ordered with his division to press the enemy. He at once advanced his command to Chickamauga Creek, capturing a large number of prisoners and quantities of material and stores.
Wood, on reaching the top of the ridge, with Baird on his left, met with heavy opposition. The enemy was supported by a division from Hardee on the right, advancing just as Baird was getting into position. Here these two divisions were engaged in a sharp contest until after dark. Turchin, with his brigade, which was the left wing of Baird, had taken possession of a small work constructed by the enemy on the ridge when he was attacked by the rebels in a most furious charge, lint gallantly repulsed them, when they drew off in the direction of Tunnel Hill. Missionary Ridge was now entirely within our control, with the exception of the point, where Sherman's advance had been so stoutly resisted. During the night, Bragg drew off Hardee's troops from the front of Sherman, where the latter at once placed his command in position for the pursuit the next day.
During the night of the 25th, Thomas was directed to send Granger with his corps, and additional troops to make his command up to 20,000, to march to Burnside's relief at Knoxville, and the other portion of Thomas's command with Sherman's troops to pursue the enemy on the 26th. The latter, on the morning of that day advanced by the road through Chickamauga Station, while Thomas ordered the command under Hooker and Palmer to push on by way of the Greysville and Ringgold road. At the former place the rearguard of the rebels was surprised after night, and three cannon and a large number of prisoners Captured. On the next clay another piece of artillery was captured at Greysville, and later in the day Hooker's advance again struck the enemy, strongly posted in a pass in Taylor's Ridge. Here, after a heavy fight of over an hour, they were driven from the pass with considerable loss on both sides. The pursuit was discontinued on the 28th. Hooker remained for a few days at Ringgold, while Palmer returned to his camp at Chattanooga.
Sherman's troops, with Davis's division in the advance, pressed through Chickamauga Station, and at about dark struck the rear of the enemy's column, and had a sharp fight. After leaving Greysville, Sherman turned his command to the left, to strike the railroad between Dalton and Cleveland. Howard was sent to destroy this road, which he did in a most thorough manner. On the following day the Fifteenth Corps destroyed the Atlanta Railroad from below Greysville back to the State line. On the 28th, Sherman was ordered to make a reconnoissance to the Hiawassee with his own corps, together with Davis's and Howard's troops of Thomas's command. On reaching Charleston, Sherman received orders to take command of Granger's column, moving to Burnside's relief, and to press forward with all the troops under him in all haste to Knoxville, eighty-four miles distant. Advancing rapidly with his command, Sherman reached Knoxville on the 6th. Longstreet, however, retreated on the 4th of December to Virginia. Leaving Granger's corps to aid in the pursuit of Longstreet, Sherman by easy marches returned to Chattanooga on the 16th of the month, where he ordered Howard and Davis to report with their commands, while he marched west with his own corps to Northern Alabama and placed them in winter quarters.
Sherman with his two days' fighting reports the losses of his command, including Howard's command, but not that of Davis, whose loss he says was small, at 295 killed, 1,402 wounded, and 292 missing--making a total of 1,989. This, however, includes the losses in his first division--Osterhaus's, which fought under Hooker on the right--of 87 killed, 344 wounded, and 66 missing, making 497 to be deducted, which leaves Sherman's loss proper, 208 killed, 1,058 wounded, and 226 missing--a total of 1,492. Thomas's loss in the part taken by his troops, also including Howard's command and not including Davis's division, was 529 killed, 2,281 wounded, and 141 missing--an aggregate of 3,951. The large bulk of the losses under Thomas were in Sheridan's and Wood's divisions. That of the former was 135 killed, 1,151 wounded, missing, none--aggregate 1,256; that of the latter, 150 killed, 851 wounded, missing, none--aggregate 1,001. These two divisions in their one hour's work storming Missionary Ridge met with a loss of 2,287 men, showing hot work. There was captured by the army of the Cumberland 40 pieces of artillery, 58 artillery carriages and caissons, 6,175 stand of small arms, principally English Enfield, and 5,471 prisoners.
During the winter there were nothing but minor movements of the troops. The railroads up to Chattanooga were repaired, and the first "cracker train" that entered the place was greeted with many hearty cheers by our troops in the town, as the shrill scream of its whistle woke the echoes among the surrounding mountains, so long silent to this music. The roads into and through East Tennessee were repaired to Knoxville and beyond.
In the early spring the organization of the Army of the Cumberland was changed by Granger being relieved of the command of the Fourth Corps, when Howard was assigned to that command. Palmer was retained in command of the Fourteenth Corps, and the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps were consolidated into the Twentieth Corps, with Hooker in command. The cavalry was organized in four divisions, under the command of W. L. Elliott. The army in the field consisted of 60,773 effective men.
General Thomas ordered the Fourth Corps to Cleveland. The Fourteenth Corps in front of Chattanooga was well thrown forward toward the enemy's front at Dalton, preparatory to the spring campaign to Atlanta, under General Sherman. The Twentieth Corps was stationed in Lookout Valley.
Then, when Sherman had been fighting for nearly two days, and had failed to make the headway Grant's plan contemplated, the plan underwent another modification. On the 25th, Grant ordered Thomas to move out his troops from the centre, to make another "demonstration" in Sherman's behalf, so he could take the tunnel in accordance with the original plan. Thomas was ordered to take the first line of rifle-pits and hold his command there, while Bragg was expected to draw off part of his troops from Sherman's front and strengthen his line in front of the "demonstration." Thomas's orders to his corps and division generals were given in accordance with Grant's instructions, and as the orders reached the brigade and regimental commanders, as far as the officers were concerned the movement was only to be a "demonstration." When the troops reached the rebel line, captured it, and then found themselves under the heavy fire from the enemy's lines on the heights above, without orders, and even against orders, the soldiers of the Army of the Cumberland, who were "so demoralized that they would not fight," pressed up the face of the ridge under the deadly musketry fire that greeted them, with cannon in front, to the right and the left, raking with converging fire, and won for General Grant the battle of Missionary Ridge, driving Bragg away from Sherman's front and thus enabling him to take the tunnel as ordered. Whenever the victory of Missionary Ridge shall be narrated on history's page, this gallant charge of the brave men of Wood's and Sheridan's divisions, with those of Baird and Johnson on their left and right, will always be the prominent feature of the engagement as told in the coming years, and will be the last to lose its glory and renown.
No wonder that General Grant failed to appreciate this movement at the time, not understanding the troops wile had it in charge. When he found these commands ascending the ridge to capture it when he ordered a "demonstration" to be made to the foot of the hill and there to wait, he turned sharply to General Thomas and asked, "By whose orders are those troops going up the hill?" General Thomas, taking in the situation at once, suggested that it was probably by their own. General Grant remarked that "it was all right if it turned out all right," and added, "if not, some one would suffer." But it turned out "all right," and Grant in his official report compliments the troops for "following closely the retreating enemy without further orders." General Thomas, in his official report, after narrating the events of the 23d, 24th, and 25th of November, quietly says: "It will be seen by the above report that the original plan of operations was somewhat modified to meet and take the best advantage of emergencies which necessitated material modifications of that plan. It is believed, however, that the original plan had it been carried out could not possibly have led to more successful results